1. Determine how you’d like to spend your retirement years. Although many people travel, devote more attention to family and friends, increase their volunteer involvement, or concentrate on hobbies and leisure activities, you should feel free to settle on your own mix of passions and pastimes. Just remember that retirement can have several phases as you age, so allow for both the development of new interests, as well as the possible need to accommodate eventual changes in health and mobility.
2. Try to get a good sense of what your desired lifestyle will cost. In large measure, this will be a function not only of what you want to do, but also where you live – both the part of the country (or the world) in which you choose to settle and the nature of the four walls you’ll be calling home. Recognize too that you won’t necessarily live in the same place throughout retirement. Moreover, continue to budget for things that are elements of your life currently such as personal and health care expenses (Medicare won’t cover all of them!), food, clothing, transportation, emergencies, and our seemingly constant companion: inflation.
3. Save as much as you reasonably can and invest appropriately. True, particularly if you have in mind a modest lifestyle in retirement, it’s possible to “over-save.” Yet people often underestimate – sometimes significantly – what their desired lifestyle will cost. Others may be quite realistic about what they will need but have difficulty putting enough aside over the years or fail to manage responsibly whatever wealth they have been able to amass. Whatever your situation, building your nest egg should be a high priority.
4. To the extent possible, maximize the financial resources you can draw upon in retirement. A number of options exist, among them:
Defined-benefit pensions – These are traditional pensions and even though fewer and fewer workers have this perk, it is quite a valuable one, as your employer covers the full cost and what you receive will usually be very reliable. Payments are fully taxable as ordinary income.
Defined-contribution plans – These are sponsored by employers and generally take the form of so-called qualified retirement plans, such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans, or some types of IRAs, such as SEP and SIMPLE IRAs. These plans feature limits on how much can go in each year and are typically funded with some combination of contributions made by your employer and pre-tax portions of your salary or wages. Account balances grow tax-free, but distributions are fully taxable as ordinary income.
Traditional IRAs – Depending on your level of income, traditional IRAs can be funded with your own pre-tax money or, less commonly, after-tax money. Traditional IRAs can also receive money “rolled over” on a tax-free basis from employer sponsored plans, such as 401(k) plans. Account balances grow tax-free. When distributions from a traditional IRA are taken, they will be taxable as ordinary income in proportion to the amount of pre-tax money you contributed or rolled over.
Roth IRAs – These, too, are funded with your own money, specifically after-tax dollars. This means that both earnings and distributions come out tax-free. Also, whatever remains in the account grows tax-free. Note: Some employers offer Roth 401(k) plans, although these are relatively rare.
Tax-deferred annuities – As the name suggests, after-tax money of your own that you invest in these products grows tax-free. Any increase in value beyond the amount you invested is taxable as ordinary income when distributed.
Individually owned savings and investment accounts, certificates of deposit, etc. – These are funded with after-tax dollars, plus whatever you earn is taxable. Some of these investments produce capital gains, which are generally taxed more favorably than interest and other sorts of ordinary income.
Employment – For some people, “retirement” means continuing to work a bit longer, albeit on a part-time basis. Similarly, working full time for an extra year or two can make additional assets available for use in connection with one or more of the options above.
Social Security benefits – Despite concerns about the long-run health of the social security system and the size of benefits one can count on, this extremely common form of retirement cash flow definitely needs to be taken into account.
Non-financial assets – Things that save you money can be just as valuable as a stream of payments. Examples would include good health, smart purchasing, and having loved ones nearby and available to help when needed.
Regardless of the combination of options you assemble and draw upon, be sure to seek competent professional guidance, as the tax rules can be complex and subject to change and the investment challenges considerable. For instance, decisions about things such as when to begin drawing Social Security payments or whether to roll retirement plan assets into an IRA will require careful planning.
Now that we’ve given you plenty to think about, please let us know if we can be of any assistance to you and your advisors!